This year, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras fall on the same week.
And I cannot think of a better way to celebrate both days with a plate of red beans and rice.
Louis Armstrong was a native son of New Orleans and loved red beans and rice – so much so, that he often signed his letters “Red Beans & Ricely Yours! Louis Armstrong.” When he and Lucille, a Northerner, were courting in the early 1940s, he asked her if she knew how to cook his favorite dish. Lucille laughed, thinking he was just teasing her. But then she realized the seriousness of his question – and his intentions. It was a litmus test. Louis had to make sure that Lucille was able to cook his favorite dish. Being from New Orleans where red beans and rice is a staple, Satchmo wasn’t joking. She said she didn’t know how to yet, but that she could learn and requested a few days to scramble for a recipe. Two days later, she invited him to meet her parents over a dinner of home-cooked red beans and rice. He described her version as, “Just what the doctor ordered.” Not long after, the two became engaged and were married in October 1942.
While many know of Louis’ accomplishments on stage, little is known about his personal life. Louis was married four times, his first marriage occurring when he was only 17 years old. However, it was his fourth and final marriage, to Lucille Wilson Armstrong, that was his longest. This was the relationship that would define the rest of Louis’ life and his legacy.
Lucille Buchanan Wilson Armstrong was born in the Bronx, on January, 13, 1914, to the owner of a cab company. When the stock market crashed and destroyed her father’s business, Lucille was forced to drop out of high school and focus on becoming a dancer.
In order to help pay the bills, Lucille worked the club circuit dancing in shows in chorus lines. Lucille found great success; she danced on Broadway in the show “Flying Colors” and became a regular dancer in the chorus line at the famed Cotton Club.
The Cotton Club was one of the best known clubs in New York City from 1923 to 1940. It was located on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue (1923-1936), then briefly in the midtown Theater District (1936-1940). The club operated during the United States’ era of Prohibition and Jim Crow era racial segregation. African Americans initially could not patronize the Cotton Club, but the venue featured many of the most popular black entertainers of the era, including musicians Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Willie Bryant; vocalists Adelaide Hall, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, Aida Ward, Avon Long, the Dandridge Sisters, the Will Vodery Choir, The Mills Brothers, Nina Mae McKinney, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and dancers such as Katherine Dunham, Bill Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, Leonard Reed, Lincoln Perry (Stepin Fetchit), the Berry Brothers, The Four Step Brothers, Jeni Le Gon and Earl Snakehips Tucker.
At its prime, the Cotton Club served as a hip meeting spot, with regular “Celebrity Nights” on Sundays featuring guests such as Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, Sophie Tucker, Paul Robeson, Al Jolson, Mae West, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Langston Hughes, Judy Garland, Moss Hart, and Jimmy Walker, among others.
At The Cotton Club, Lucille received high praise and a local critic even wrote, “the most important contribution to the city’s ha-cha-cha is in the person of an obscure youngster, in the chorus, by the name of Lucille Wilson.”
Everyone performed there — and as you might have guessed, another notable name performed at The Cotton Club — Louis Armstrong.
After traveling throughout Europe for a bit, performing in the chorus line of various shows, and receiving world-renowned praise for her talents, Lucille returned to The Cotton Club.
Louis and Lucille met at the club in 1939, and Louis was smitten with her immediately. Lucille knew who the musician was – her mother was a huge fan and Lucille had been raised on Armstrong’s records. In an interview, Lucille said that she couldn’t imagine why a man who was 13 years older, with so much life experience, would be interested in her.
One night, when Louis was at The Cotton Club, he told Lucille that he wanted to buy all of the cookies that she would sell to the dancers and band members, in order to make some extra money. He and a member of his band would then take the cookies and distribute them to children at a local school.
From then on, Lucille and Louis were inseparable- at least when he was in town. Louis traveled frequently, performing in shows, but he did his best to keep the courtship going- he would call and wire Lucille regularly and married on October 12, 1942, after she passed the cooking the red beans and rice test, of course.
Photo Courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives.
After they were married, Lucille quickly decided that life on the road wasn’t for her. She wanted to buy a house and put down roots of her own. She had an idea to buy a house, but Louis balked. She decided to buy the house anyway, and in March of 1943, Lucille put a down payment on a house in Corona, Queens, New York. The area was not far from the homes of other musicians, such as James Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.
When Louis got back from tour, he saw the house that Lucille had bought and absolutely loved it.
After she purchased the house, Lucille spent less time on the road with Louis, and more time at home. Although she was happy to finally be settled in Corona, Lucille gladly joined Louis whenever he traveled abroad.
Photo Courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives.
This three story town home at was built in 1910. Armstrong was an international superstar and he could have lived anywhere in the world. But always down-to-earth, he and his wife Lucille chose a modest house in an ordinary neighborhood in Queens.
This is just a regular Queens ‘Archie Bunker’ home, and it looks like the home of a working man with a wife who loved shiny things. The den was the one room in the house that he could call his own. Louis said he didn’t ask for much in life, and this is the room Lucille gave him. He let her have the rest of the house.
Even after a state-of-the-art modernizing and remodelling, the kitchen remained a cozy center of their home. where they’d live for the rest of their days. Although Louis’ demanding tour schedule kept him on the road much of the time, he still developed close ties with his community at home.
Can you imagine Mrs. Armstrong cooking in her kitchen. If walls could talk, what stories they could tell.
All the doors on the glossy blue custom cabinets are mounted on piano hinges.
A Nutone food processor, outfitted with an assortment of attachments is built right into the counter top.
Covered dispensers for waxed paper and aluminum foil are built into the wall for easy access
Long before the era of Viking ranges, Lucille commissioned a deluxe stove from the maker, Crown.
The kitchen also boasts an early 1960s Sub Zero refrigerator, customized to match the cabinetry.
A chair converts into a kitchen step-stool with a flip of the seat. Lucille stood 5′ and Louis 5’4″ and frequently used the stool to reach high shelves.
Today, the neighborhood feels like a foreign country, predominantly Latin. On a recent visit, Caribbean music could be heard over the hum of a vintage window air conditioner in Armstrong’s second-floor, wood-paneled den. Shelves and cabinets with glass doors held reel-to-reel tape recorders and boxed recordings of Armstrong’s musings and practice sessions. Among the audio documents, museum staffers discovered tapes of the couple’s daily life in the house – a narrow brick place that they shared with numerous dogs.
Jazz great Louis Armstrong entertains neighborhood children on the front porch of his home in Corona, Queens. (Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum).
The Armstrongs had no children of their own, but Louis would often invite neighborhood kids over to hear him play. When the ice cream truck came by their street, he’d buy them all frozen treats, but only, as Louis Armstrong House tour guide, MacKerrow Talcott, recounts “if they’d finished all their homework.” However, it was revealed in December 2012, 57-year-old Sharon Preston-Folta claimed to be his daughter from a 1950s affair between Armstrong and Lucille “Sweets” Preston, a dancer at the Cotton Club. In a 1955 letter to his manager, Joe Glaser, Armstrong affirmed his belief that Preston’s newborn baby was his daughter, and ordered Glaser to pay a monthly allowance of $400 (US$4,772 in 2019 dollars) to mother and child.
In the late ’60s, when Louis’ health began to decline, Lucille converted the den in their home, making it more comfortable for him, and dedicated herself to nursing him back to health.
By 1970, Lucille rarely left Louis’ side, even joining him for TV appearances, much to the delight of audiences. After Louis died on July 6, 1971, at the age of 69, Lucille dedicated the rest of her life to preserving his legacy. She began traveling the world, giving lectures about Louis’ work and life and met with musicians that Louis worked with (and some he didn’t have the opportunity to work with).
She also worked to have the Singer Bowl, located in Queens, renamed in Louis’ honor. The Louis Armstrong Memorial Stadium was dedicated in 1973 and held that name until it was demolished in 2016. The new stadium, located on the same site, was dedicated as Louis Armstrong Stadium in 2018.
In 1976, Lucille filed paperwork to have her and Louis’ Corona family home established as a National Historic Landmark and a plaque declaring it so was placed in 1977. The home is now the location of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, per Lucille’s request. The house contains all of the scrapbooks, photos and news clippings that the couple collected throughout Louis’ life.
Lucille passed away on October 3, 1983, in Boston, where she had planned to attend Louis Armstrong memorial events. Lucille’s willed everything to The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, Inc. and the family home was willed to the City of New York. Until the end, Lucille was dedicated to her Louis. Her love for the legend can’t be mistaken and will never be forgotten.
The home now serves the public as The Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark. The Museum is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, the Association of African American Museums, the Museums Council of New York City, the New York State Museums Association, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and NYC & Company. The Museum is a constituent of the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College.
The historic site is owned by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and administered by Queens College under a long-term license agreement.
The mission of The Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives sustains and promotes the cultural, historical, and humanitarian legacy of Louis Armstrong by preserving and interpreting Armstrong’s house and grounds, collecting and sharing archival materials that document Armstrong’s life and legacy, and presenting public programs such as exhibits, concerts, lectures, and film screenings. The Museum seeks to educate and inspire people of all ages, origins, and locations.
Although the museum is closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, you can still visit on-line Make sure you check out the special virtual events that the museum will be hosting throughout the year.
In 1970, he wrote about early life with Lucille, as collected in Louis Armstrong In His Own Words: Selected Writings (ed. Thomas Brothers):
The Red Beans + Rice that Lucille Cooked for me was just what the Doctor ordered. Very much delicious and I Ate Just like a dog. I said forgive me after I had finished eating. I Just had to make some kind of excuse. She accepted it very cheerful. Because I am sure that Lucille has never witnessed any one Human Being eating So much. Especially at one Sitting. I had her to save the rest of the Beans that was left over. Then I’d come another time and finish them. We commenced getting closer “n” closer as time went by.
So satisfied was he with her take that when he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show — a daytime television talk show — in 1970, he brought on Lucille for a red beans and rice cooking demonstration.
On the May 26, 1970 episode of “The Mike Douglas Show,” Lucille Armstrong hosted a cooking segment on her recipe for red beans and rice while Louis, Mike Douglas, Caesar Romero and Joe Williams look on.
Louis and Lucille were the ultimate power couple in their day, as they were happily married for nearly three decades, until Louis’ death in 1971. I like to think that love and food kept them together for all of those years.
And if you don’t know already by now…….
Red beans and rice is an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine, traditionally made on Mondays with red beans, For the most part, ham was traditionally a Sunday meal and Monday was washday. A pot of beans could sit on the stove and simmer while the women were busy scrubbing clothes. Besides the red beans, the seasoning known as the bell pepper, onion, and celery along with spices such as thyme, cayenne pepper and bay leaf, and the pork bones as left over from Sunday dinner, were also added to the pot and all the ingredients were cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. Meats such as ham, sausage (most commonly andouille), and tasso ham were added to the recipe as many cooks adapted the dish to what was on hand at the time. In most modern restaurants, these meats are also frequently used in the dish. The dish is now fairly common throughout the Southeast. Similar dishes are common in Latin American cuisine, including moros y cristianos, gallo pinto and feijoada.
Red beans and rice is one of the few New Orleans style dishes to be commonly served both in people’s homes and in restaurants. Many neighborhood restaurants and even schools continue to serve it as a Monday lunch or dinner special, usually with a side order of cornbread and either smoked sausage or a pork chop or fried chicken. While Monday washdays are largely a thing of the past, red beans remain a staple for large gatherings such as Super Bowl and Mardi Gras parties. Indeed, red beans and rice is very much part of the New Orleans identity.
Courtesy of The Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM), here’s Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s red beans recipe, verbatim. (It’s transcribed below.) It’s an all-day and all-night process, and vegetarians will have to substitute. But for those who have only known canned beans, an afternoon spent simmering in aromatic vegetables might just prove revelatory true love.
Courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum
POPS FAVORITE DISH
By – Louis and Lucille Armstrong
Creole Red Beans (Kidney) And Rice
(Use 2 qt. pot with cover)
1 lb. Kidney Beans
1/2 lb. Salt Pork (Strip of lean, strip of fat)
(Slab Bacon may be used if preferred)
1 small can of tomato sauce (if desired)
6 small Ham Hocks or one smoked Pork Butt
2 onions diced
1/4 green (bell) pepper
5 tiny or 2 medium dried peppers
1 clove garlic – chopped
Salt to taste
Wash beans thoroughly, then soak over night in cold water. Be sure to cover beans. To cook, pour water off beans, add fresh water to cover. Add salt pork or bacon, let come to a boil over full flame in covered pot. Turn flame down to slightly higher than low and let cook one and one-half hours. Add diced onions, bell pepper, garlic, dried peppers and salt. Cook three hours. Add tomato sauce, cook one and one-half hours more, adding water whenever necessary. Beans and met should always be just covered with water (juice), never dry. This serves 6 or more persons…..
To prepare with Ham Hocks or Pork Butts….. Wash meat, add water to cover and let come to a boil in covered pot over medium flame. Cook one and one-half hours. Then add beans (pour water off), add rest of ingredients to meat. Cook four and one-half hours. Add water when necessary.
For non pork eaters, chicken fat may be used instead of salt pork. Corned beef or beef tongue may be used instead of ham hocks or butts.
2 cups white rice
2 cups water
One teaspoon of salt
One pot with cover
Wash rice thoroughly, have water and salt come to a boil. Add rice to boiling water. Cook until rice swells and water is almost evaporated. Cover and turn flame down low. Cook until rice is grainy. To insure grainy rice, always use one and one-half cups water to one cup of rice….. “To serve”
On dinner plate — Rice then beans, either over rice or beside rice as preferred. … Twenty minutes later — Bisma Rex and Swiss Kriss.
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This post is dedicated to Myra Michelle, my friend since our middle school days, long since gone. She is the 5xs, great- granddaughter of one of France’s most famous authors, Alexandre Dumas (père) (1802-1870) , who wrote classics such as “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo“. He was also an exceptional cook and epicure. Dumas was a man of exquisite tastes, and at most extravagant, even by modern standards. His social circles included the café society of mid 19th century Paris, and if your were a member of the literati, there was a good chance that you would have found yourself at one of Dumas’ weekly open houses hosting a lavishly grand dinner parties. With all his friends in attendance, they would be dazzled with the glorious food he presented.
Dumas, not only wrote in an amazing variety of genres (plays, essays, short stories, histories, historical novels, romances, crime stories and travel books), and published over one hundred thousand pages in his lifetime, he also wrote an encyclopedia of a cookbook: the 1,150 page, Le Grand Dictionaire de Cuisine. He was not only a prolific writer, but a consummate gourmet cook and bon vivant.
And to say the least, my friend Myra Machelle has an extraordinary family history…….
Yes, I know, this post is about Lemon Flowered Ice Cream, but the life story of the Dumas family is just to rich to pass on.
Alexandre Dumas was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in 1802 in Villars-Cotterêts, Picardy, France, to Marie-Louise Labouret and General Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (1762-1806). Dumas’ nom de plume derives from his grandmother on his father’s side, Marie-Cosette Dumas, an enslaved Haitian woman, and his grandfather, the Marquis Alexandre– Antoine Davy de La Pailleterie. Dumas’ father, Thomas-Alexandre, who rose to the distinguished rank of general at the young age of 31 in the French Army, distinguishing himself with his military exploits.
Thomas-Alexandre had been born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), the , natural son of the marquis Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, a French nobleman and général commissaire in the artillery of the colony, and Marie-Cessette Dumas, an enslaved woman and concubine of African descent and owned by Davy de la Pailleterie.
Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, born 1714, was the oldest of three sons of the Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (1674 – 1758) and Jeanne-Françoise Paultre (or Pautre) de Dominon (died 1757). The Davy de la Pailleteries were provincial Norman aristocrats whose wealth was in decline. The family had acquired the title of “lords” (seigneurs) by 1632. The French kingdom granted the title “marquis” to the family by 1708.
Alexandre Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie (“Antoine”) had two younger brothers, Charles Anne Edouard (1716-1773) and Louis François Thérèse (1718-1773). All three were educated at a military school and pursued careers as officers in the French military. They first served during the War of the Polish Succession. Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie, who reached the rank of colonel, notably saw action at the Siege of Philippsburg in 1734.
In 1732, Charles had been given a military posting in Saint-Domingue, a French colony in the Caribbean that generated high revenues from its sugarcane plantations, worked by enslaved African labor. In 1738, Charles left the military to become a sugar planter in that colony; he married Anne-Marie Tuffé, a rich local French Creole widow, and took over her estate.That year Antoine also left the Army and joined his brother and his wife in Saint-Domingue. He lived with them and worked at the plantation until 1748. After the two brothers quarrelled violently, Antoine left Charles’s plantation, taking his three personal slaves and broke off contact with his brother and his family for a period of thirty years. During that time, Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie purchased the slave woman Marie-Cessette “for an exorbitant price” and took her as a concubine. Antoine and Marie resided together at a plantation called La Guinaudée (or Guinodée), near Jérémie.Saint-Domingue (formerly in the French colony of , now Haiti). The French colonist made a living in Jérémie, as a coffee and cacao planter, under the assumed name of “Antoine de l’Isle”. In 1762, she gave birth to their mixed-race son Thomas-Alexandre. At the time of Thomas-Alexandre’s birth, his father was an impoverished French aristocrat. It is not known whether his mother was born in Saint-Domingue or on the continent of Africa, nor is it known from which African people her ancestors came. During her time with Antoine, she also had two daughters with him.
On a side note, Marie-Cessette Dumas, was described as a “great matriarch to a saga of distinguished men”,
Sources have spelling variations of her name, as standardization was not common at the time. Some scholars have suggested that “Dumas” was not a surname for Marie-Cessette, but, meaning “of the farm” (du mas in Old French), was added to her first names to signify that she belonged to the property. Others have suggested African origins of the names Cessette and Dumas, may have originated in Gabon , where Marie-Cessette might have been captured by slave traders. According to Francophone novelist Calixthe Beyala, the name “Dumas” was initially “Dûma,” of Fang origin, meaning “dignity.” If this is the case, Hans Werner Debrunner has written that she would have been Yoruba or Dahomeyan . There are two extant primary documents that state a racial identity for Marie-Cessette Dumas refer to her as a “négresse” (a black female) as opposed to a “mulâtresse” (a female of visible mixed race).Secondary sources on General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, dating back to 1822, almost always describe his mother as a black African (“femme africaine”, “négresse”, “négresse africaine”, “noire”, or “pure black African”).
(L to R): GénéralThomas- Alexandre Dumas; Alexander Dumas père; Portrait d’Alexandre Dumas fils; Alexandre Lippmann. Comité National Olympique et Sportif Français. Photograph. 1920.
Henry Bauer, circa 1871.
Her grandson, Alexandre Dumas, who became one of France’s most widely read authors of all time. His most famous characters were inspired by his father’s life.The general’s grandson, Alexandre Dumas, fils, would become one of France’s most celebrated playwrights of the second half of the nineteenth century.
Another grandson, Henry Bauër who was never recognized by the novelist Dumas pere, was a prominent left-leaning theater critic in the same period.
Henry Bauër was born from the affair of Alexandre Dumas father with Anna Bauër, a German of Israelite faith from the Baden country , wife of Karl-Anton Bauer, an Austrian commercial agent living in Paris, where he spells his surname “Bauër” with umlaut. After Karl-Anton emigrated to Australia, the child grew up with his mother. Skilled in business, this one alone provides for the education of her son.
After his studies at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand , Henry Bauër enrolled in the Faculty of Law and Medicine, for studies that would lead him nowhere. He soon joined the bohemian district of the Latin Quarter , read Proudhon and approached more and more revolutionary circles. It comes into conflict on several occasions, on the occasion of the organization or participation in public events, with the justice of the Second Empire . He thus served, during the year 1870, several months of prison for various political activities (riot, public meeting without authorization, lèse-majesté, etc.), before being released by the crowd of demonstrators on the day of the proclamation of the Republic, .
Bauër who, after France declared war on Germany on , had volunteered for military service, anticipated the call by enlisting in the National Guard .
Bauer is described in period literature as a “handsome giant”: around six feet tall , stout with an imposing graying early mane and a vigorous complexion which, with age, must have looked more and more to his biological father, Alexandre Dumas. He was considered irascible, controversial, but very benevolent towards all the young artists who were distinguished by a “new profile”. He is also not known to have a dispute, a duel or an illegitimate connection.
Alexandre Dumas, pere, circa 1860s.
Henry Bauer, circa 1910.
Bauër’s influence on the Parisian cultural scene is described as considerable. A contemporary report describes him as the champion of progressive theater criticism and the great adversary of traditionalist critics, notably Francisque Sarcey and Jules Lemaître. Anyone who has attended a dress-up knows how striking it looks in a bathtub or a front row seat. His word was law, especially among artists . He also generously put this influence, among others, at the service of theatrical programming (as at the Théâtre Libre) or to have roles assigned to his favorite actresses.
The most important part of his work therefore is his journalistic activity, while his attempts at poetic writing have been esteemed, but not very successful. As a journalist, he showed himself in his chronicles and his theater critics vigorously in favor of women’s equality, against discrimination against homosexuals and Jews, for disarmament and pacifism.
Falling ill in 1915, Bauër went to Évian on Lake Geneva , in order to recover, but his condition nevertheless deteriorated rapidly so that his son Gérard took him to the hospital in Paris, where he died at age. 64 years old. His funeral took place in the Père-Lachaise cemetery and his ashes brought to the family crypt in Chatou, from where they were transferred, in 1963, at the initiative of Gérard Bauër , to the cemetery of Charonne , where since that time, a tombstone commemorates Henry Bauër.
The General’s great-grandson, Gérard Bauër , son of Henry Bauër, was also an accomplished writer in the twentieth century. A great-great-grandson, Alexandre Lippmann (grandson of the playwright Dumas fils), was a two-time gold medalist in fencing at the 1908 and 1924 Olympic games . Lippman also he won silver at the 1920 Olympiad.
Thomas-Alexandre had two siblings by his parents: Adolphe and Jeannette. They also had an older half-sister, Marie-Rose, born to Marie-Cessette before Davy de la Pailleterie purchased her and began their relationship. His father sold Marie-Cessette and her other three children before arranging to take Thomas-Alexandre with him to France.
Brought as a boy to France in 1776 by his father and legally freed him there, through a serious of actions to circumvent French Colonial Laws. In 1776 when Thomas-Alexandre was fourteen years old, his father sold him for 800 French livres in Port-au-Prince, officially to a Lieutenant Jacques-Louis Roussel (but unofficially to a Captain Langlois). This sale, with right of redemption, provided both a legal way to have Thomas-Alexandre taken to France with Langlois and a temporary loan to pay for his father’s passage. The boy accompanied Captain Langlois to Le Havre, France, arriving on 30 August 1776, where his father bought him back and freed him. Slavery had been illegal in metropolitan France since 1315, but not it’s colonies, and thus any slave would be freed de facto by being in the country, itself. A law that James Hemings, the enslaved chef of Thomas Jefferson, would use to his benefit, while living in France.
Antoine was the sole heir of what remained of his family’s land holdings. Flush with cash from the sale of his family estate, Davy de la Pailleterie for many years spent lavishly on Dumas. His notary said that the boy “cost him enormously”. From 1777 to 1786, from age 15 to 24, thanks to his father’s wealth and generosity, Dumas lived a life of considerable leisure. Thomas-Alexandre Dumas Davy was educated in a military school, Nicolas Texier de la Boëssière , where he was given the higher education of a young nobleman of the time. At this school, he learned swordsmanship from Joseph Bolongne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), another mixed-race man from the French Caribbean. And he was known to have been an exceptional horseman.
But a life of privilege did not protect him from the racism that was prevelant in his life time, much like what many Africans in diaspora and people of colour experience today in the 21st century. In 1784, at age 22, Alexandre moved to an apartment on Rue Etienne, near the Louvre Palace in Paris, socializing at venues such as the Palais-Royal and Nicolet’s Theater. In September of 1784, while seated at Nicolet’s Theater in the company of “a beautiful Creole” woman, he and his companion were harassed by a white colonial naval officer, Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain, and one or two others. Following Dumas’s verbal protests, the men “tried to force him to kneel before his attacker and beg for his freedom”. The police report on the incident shows that Titon chose not to press charges as he might have, and all participants were released.
Dumas used several names in his life: Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, Thomas Rethoré (or Retoré), Alexandre Dumas, Alex Dumas, and finally Thomas-Alexandre Dumas-Davy de la Pailleterie. “Davy de la Pailleterie” is his father’s family name. He used the name “Retoré” (sometimes spelled Rethoré) during and for some years after the period in which his father sold him and then re-purchased him (circa 1775–1778). According to the biographer Tom Reiss, the name Retoré “was perhaps picked up from a neighbor in Jérémie (where the name can be found on official records of the period)”.
Thomas-Alexandre joined the army as a young man at the age of 24 as a private, with the help of his father. Joining the French Army, was a common occupation for aristocrats and gentlemen. Unlike his noble peers, who took arms as commissioned officers, Dumas enlisted as a private. A 1781 rule enabled men who could show four generations of nobility on their father’s side to qualify to be commissioned as officers. Basically this was a “grandfather clause”. Dumas had this, but the French laws that goverened race, i.e. the “Black Codes”, “made it hard for a man of mixed race to claim his rightful title or noble status” in French society at the time.
According to his son, the novelist Dumas’s account, on hearing of Thomas-Alexandre’s plan, his father insisted that his son take a “nom de guerre” in order that he not drag the noble name “through the lowest ranks of the army”. He signed up for the 6th Regiment of the Queen’s Dragoons as “Alexandre Dumas”, the first record of his use of the name on 2 June 1786; thirteen days later, his father died. And so, as an adult, Thomas-Alexandre used his mother’s name, Dumas, as his surname. It was known in his platoon that this was “not his real name”.
And speaking of his mother, there is documentation of a legal judgment signed before “the Counselors of King, Notary Publics in the Châtelet of Paris” on November 22, 1786, which settled property ownership issues between Thomas-Alexandre Dumas (then known as Thomas Rethoré) and his step- mother, Marie Françoise Elisabeth Retou (widow of his father, Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie). In it, Marie-Cesette Dumas is mentioned as “Marie Cezette, negress, mother of Mr. Rethoré” (“Marie Cezette negresse mother dud. [Said] S. Rethoré”).which attests officially that Retou gave up her property rights over Marie-Cessette Dumas and her two daughters. It is unclear as to when his mother and sibilings were manumitted, if that was ever done while Thomas-Alexander was alive.
He used the simple form “Alex Dumas” starting in 1794. General Dumas used the full name “Thomas-Alexandre Dumas-Davy de la Pailleterie” on his son’s birth certificate in 1802.
The enlistment roll-book for the 6th Regiment of the Queen’s Dragoons, which Dumas joined in 1786, described him as being over “6 feet tall, with frizzy black hair and eyebrows… oval face, and brown skinned, small mouth, thick lips”. According to the earliest-known published description of him (1797), he was “one of the handsomest men you could ever meet. […] His frizzy hair recalls the curls of the Greeks and Romans.” It described his face as ‘something closer to ebony’ than to ‘bronze.'”
Général Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. Oil on canva by Olivier Pichat, 1883. Musée Alexandre Dumas, Villers-Cotterëts, France. Via Wikimedia.
Dumas spent his first years in the Queen’s Dragoons in the provincial town of Laon, Picardy, close to the border with the Austrian Netherlands. On 15 August 1789, following the beginning of the French Revolution, his unit was sent to the small town of Villers-Cotterêts. The town’s newly formed National Guard leader, innkeeper Claude Labouret, had called for them to come in response to a wave of rural violence known as the Great Fear. Dumas lodged at the Labourets’ Hôtel de l’Ecu for four months, during which time he became engaged to Claude Labouret’s daughter Marie-Louise.She stayed in Villers-Cotterêts with her family during his military campaigns. Dumas bought a farm of 30 acres there. They had daughters Marie-Alexandrine (born 10 September 1794), Louise-Alexandrine (born January or February 1796, died 1797), and a son, Alexandre Dumas, who became a prolific and notable author, with numerous successes in plays and especially adventure novels.
Dumas played a pivotal role in the French Revolutionary Wars.
“Officer from the Antilles makes good! Captain Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, born in the Caribbean, has proven his valor here in France. An accomplished soldier, the young captain has charmed one and all, in some contrast to his friend and colleague, the taciturn Captain Bonaparte.”―Le Patriote describing Dumas.
Dumas was offered a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel, serving as the second-in-command to its commander in Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the”Free Legion” also known as the “Black Legion”, composed of free men of color, of the French Revolutionary Army. When the Black Legion was formed in 1792 by Joseph Boulogne, chevalier de Saint-Georges, Dumas was promoted to lieutenant colonel and became second in command of the legion. Saint George—who had been born on Guadeloupe and, like Dumas, was of mixed ethnicity—had little interest in the army and left Dumas to organize, train, and command the legion.
In the post-revolutionary France the notions of Liberte, Fraternite, Egalite (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood/friendship) attempted to do away with social and class division and this extended across government and into the military which saw itself as a meritocracy. The Black Legion was fighting with the Army of the North when Dumas was the first person of colour in the French military to become brigadier general, when he was promoted to the rank in 1793. He had risen from corporal to general unusually quickly.Dumas earned another rapid promotion,becoming the first to become divisional general. And by age 31 he rose in rank to command 53,000 troops as the General-in-Chief of the French Army of the Alps, the first soldier of colour, to ever to reach that superior commanding rank in the French army. It should be noted that Dumas and Toussaint Louverture(appointed a general-in-chief in 1797) were the two highest-ranking officers of African descent in the Western world until 1975, when Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.( 1920 – 1978) achieved the equivalent rank of four-star general in the United States Air Force.
Dumas served directly under Napoleon in the Army of Italy in 1796/7 and initially the relationship between the two men was one of mutual respect and admiration, but over the years, the relationship became increasingly strained. Dumas openly questioned some of Napoleon’s policies, was given a command beneath his rank and was omitted from some dispatches. Whether this was solely due to his relationship with Napoleon or some underlying institutional racism is difficult to establish, but he was widely respected for his bravery and was recruited by General Joubert, so I suspect racism or outright jealously coloured Napoleon’s perceptions of Dumas. This view is reinforced because after one particularly outstanding action at the Eisack River Dumas was personally rewarded with command of all the French cavalry forces in Italy. in 1794 he captured two important mountain passes: the Little Saint Bernard Pass and the Col du Mont Cenis.
Dumas was given leave in December 1794 to recover his health at Villers-Cotterêts, his adopted hometown in France. Because of his aristocratic background, Dumas was denounced in 1794 by the local Jacobin Club, he was recalled to Paris to defend himself, before Rospierre, but the coup d’état of 9 Thermidor (July 27) put an end to the Reign of Terror and the charges brought against him. He then briefly served with the Army of the West.
Fit for service in 1796, Dumas was ordered back to the Army of the Alps, not as its commander but as second in command under Gen. François-Christophe Kellermann. Unhappy, Dumas requested a transfer. In October 1796, he was sent to Italy to serve under General Napoleon Bonaparte; he fought under Bonaparte until the Treaty of Campo Formio, the peace settlement signed in October 1797 that followed France’s victory over Austria.
Dumas’s strategic victory in opening the high Alps passes enabled the French to initiate their Second Italian Campaign against the Austrian Empire. During the battles in Italy, Austrian troops nicknamed Dumas the Schwarzer Teufel (“Black Devil”, Diable Noir in French).The French—notably Napoleon—nicknamed him “the Horatius Cocles of the Tyrol“(after a hero who had saved ancient Rome) for single-handedly defeating an entire squadron of enemy troops at a bridge over the Eisack River in Clausen (today Klausen, or Chiusa, Italy).
Dumas became a military hero of the new republic. His popularity also outshined that of his fellow General, Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1798, Dumas served as commander of the French cavalry forces on the Expédition d’Égypte, a failed French attempt to conquer Egypt and the Levant that was under British Control. On the march from Alexandria to Cairo, he clashed verbally with the Expedition’s supreme commander Napoleon Bonaparte, under whom he had served in the Italian campaigns. This followed the Battle of the Pyramids. Misery invaded the French Ranks with shippers of mutiny and desertions. Napoleon threated Dumas with treason and threatened to shoot him in the head. He sought a relief of his command and was permitted to leave Egypt in February 1799. In March 1799, Dumas left Egypt on an unsound vessel, which was forced to put aground in the southern Italian Kingdom of Naples
The Holy Faith Army imprisoned Dumas and the rest of the passengers and confiscated most of their belongings. Dumas had coffee and Arabian horses, among his cargo. Early on in the captivity, Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo tried to trade Dumas for a Corsican adventurer named Boccheciampe, an imposter posing as Prince Francis, son of Ferdinand IV, in order to aid the Holy Faith movement. Boccheciampe had been captured by French forces north of the Neapolitan kingdom, shortly after he had visited the prisoners in Taranto, but Ruffo lost interest in a trade when he learned Boccheciampe had been killed by the French.
As he languished in the dungeon in Naples, Dumas was malnourished and kept incommunicado for two years. By the time of his release, he was partially paralyzed, almost blind in one eye, had been deaf in one ear but recovered; his physique was broken. He believed his illnesses were caused by poisoning. During his imprisonment, he was aided by a secret local pro-French group, which brought him medicine and a book of remedies. In November 1799, Napoleon had returned to Paris and seized power. Dumas’s wife lobbied his government for assistance in finding and rescuing her husband, to little result. Napoleon’s forces, under the command of Dumas’s fellow general Joachim Murat, eventually defeated Ferdinand IV’s army and secured Dumas’s release in March 1801.
Early 20th-century picture, possibly cira 1912, of a statue of General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas that stood in Place Malesherbes for thirty years, alongside statues of Alexandre Dumas’s descendants Alexandre Dumas, père(erected in 1883) and Alexandre Dumas, fils (erected in 1906), as well as one of Sarah Bernhardt, was destroyed by the Germans during the occupation of Paris 1941-1942. Dumaas’ statue was never restored.
Returning to France after his release, Dumas was not awarded “the pension normally allocated to the widows of generals” by the French government and he struggled to support his family after his return to France. He repeatedly wrote to Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking back-pay for his time lost in Taranto and a new commission in the military, despite being physically broken and incapable of resuming service. For some reason he was refused a General’s pension. It can only be speculated whether it was a long standing grudge that Napoleon held against Dumas (based on racism) which Napoleon is known to do during his entire life. Some historians emphasize the strength of the ambition that took Napoleon from an obscure village to command of most of Europe. In-depth academic studies about his early life conclude that up until age 2, he had a “gentle disposition”. His older brother, Joseph, frequently received their mother’s attention which made Napoleon more assertive and approval-driven. During his early schooling years he was extremely small for his age and he would be harshly bullied by classmates for his Corsican identity and control of the French language. To withstand the stress he became domineering, eventually developing an inferiority complex. giving rise to what we call today, the Napoleonic Complex. Dumas died of stomach cancer on February 26, 1806 in Villers-Cotterêts, at the age of 43, more than likely attributed to the poisoning during his internment in Italy. At Dumas’ death, his son Alexandre was three years and seven months old. The boy, his sister, and his widowed mother were plunged into deeper poverty. Marie-Louise Labouret Dumas worked in a tobacconist’s shop to make ends meet. For lack of funds, the young Alexandre Dumas was unable to get even a basic secondary education. Marie-Louise persistently lobbied the French government to be paid her military widow’s pension. Marie-Louise and the young Alexandre blamed Napoleon Bonaparte’s “implacable hatred” for their poverty.
Ironically, Napoleon died in 1821, at age 51, from stomach cancer.
His mother, Marie-Louise, struggled to make ends meet and provide an education for her son using the few resources she had. The precocious Dumas’ young appetite lusted for literature and he read everything he could find, while his mother’s stories about his father’s bravery during Bonaparte’s campaigns fueled his imagination. And, although poor, his paternal grandfather’s aristocratic lineage and his father’s illustrious reputation eventually helped him secure a place in school, and then, in 1822, at the age of 20, a position at the Palais Royal in Paris in the office of the Duc d’Orléans.
In his spare time, while working for the Duc, Dumas used his accumulated knowledge to begin writing plays for the theatre. His first plays, written in a Romantic style similar to his contemporary (and later rival) Victor Hugo, were so popular that he made enough money to quit his job and write full-time. In 1830, Charles X was overthrown and the Duc d’Orléans became the ruler of France as King Louis-Philippe. The new monarch greatly improved the general economy of his country, thus increasing Dumas’ revenues, enabling him to afford to serialize his plays. Subsequently, he founded a writing studio with a willing cadre of assistants and collaborating writers, including Jules Verne. By 1850 Dumas had written The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, among many others. His novels were so popular they were first translated into English, and then a hundred languages, and were eventually transformed into over 200 films.
The Count of Monte Cristo was partially based on Alexandre Dumas’ great uncle, Charles Anne Edouard (1716-1773), the younger brother of his grandfather Antoine.
When the brothers’ parents, the Marquise Jeanne-Françoise and the Marquis Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, died in 1757 and 1758, respectively, Charles returned to Normandy to claim the title of Marquis and the family château. The British blockade of French shipping during the Seven Years’ War reduced Charles’ income from sugar exports, so he tried to smuggle the commodity out of Saint-Domingue from his plantation. He used a wharf in the neutral border territory (and tiny island) of Monte Cristo (today Monte Christi, Dominican Republic). (Some historians believe that this Monte Cristo was the “real” island that inspired Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo.) Charles died of gout in 1773.
During this period he earned large sums of money, more than enough for him to spend on sumptuous living: grand love affairs (even though married he had over 40 mistresses), beautiful houses, rich foods and expensive wines. A man of tremendous energy and enormous self-esteem, he was described as a giant, both in mind and body. Dumas boasted, “If I were locked in a room with five women, pens, paper, and a play to be written, by the end of an hour I would have finished the five acts and had the five women.” The idea of writing a cookbook had been in Dumas’ mind for years.
As a journalist, Dumas published a conversational piece, “Causerie Culinaire,” in 1858. Roughly translated as “A Chat About Cooking,” it was a contemplation of Dumas’s gastronomic life, covering everything from his childhood to a recipe for Neapolitan macaroni. Dumas would follow with other columns on cooking, published in various French daily and weekly papers. The diaries of his contemporaries, such as George Sand, also record the suppers given by la famille Dumas, where Dumas père was occasionally to be found toiling in the kitchen.
Alexandre Dumas Père, preparing his oyster omelette.
He would begin it, he said, “…when I caught the first glimpse of death on the horizon” and in 1869 he set upon the task of writing his gastronomic magnum opus. Dumas gathered his cookbooks and research and retreated to the western coast of France to his seaside retreat in Roscoff on Cape Finisterrein, Normandy with his cook.
Dumas’s Roscoff home, where he worked on Le Grand Dictionnaire.
Six months later, his Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine was finished. Of his book he said, “It will be read by wordily people and used by professionals. In cookery as in writing, all things are possible.” True to his vision.
The manuscript, an 1,150-page tour de force with illustrations, was delivered to Dumas’s publisher and friend, Alphonese Lemerre, in the spring of 1870, but just as it was being set in type, in July of 1870, the Franco-Prussian War tore Europe apart. Publication was halted and the book was set aside. Dumas never saw the publication of his great work on cuisine. A few months later, he succumbed to a stroke on December 5, 1870. Despite the five hundred books he had authored, Dumas considered Le Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine his masterwork, so once peace was established, his friend D. J. Vuillemot corrected and revised the manuscript, and Le Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine was published posthumously in 1873 by Lemerre. To this day, it remains a monument to truly embracing the love of food and unlike most of Dumas’ body of work – and by all accounts, he actually wrote the whole by thing himself.
French literary critics have long ignored the book, since they regard it as a cookery book rather than a piece of literature. French gastronomic writers have made reverent references to it, but none have really analyzed its contents or drawn attention to its mistakes and other imperfections or glaring errors.
Writers outside France have paid some attention to the book. Many references to it can be found in English books on cookery and food in the period from 1875 to the end of the century. Most of these are based on the assumption that Dumas was a great gastronome and that his work should be treated as an authoritative source rather than subjected to critical scrutiny. However, one writer, the highly idiosyncratic Dr. J. L. W. Thudichum, went further in his book The Spirit of Cookery (sub-titled “A Popular Treatise on the History, Science, Practice, and Ethical and Medical Import of Culinary Art,” and published by Frederick Warne and Co. in 1895). He cites Dumas frequently and applies the adjective “great” to the dictionary. But it is clear that he has actually read it from beginning to end (an unusual feat) and his judgment of it is a balanced one.
It may be that the dictionary, which, by the sheer weight of its recipes and the tidal flow of Dumas’ own prose, not to mention the weight of his reputation, is apt to have a hypnotic effect on French readers, lulling their critical faculties to a state of complete quiescence; whereas a foreigner, who has to translate the prose mentally as he reads the book, is more likely to reflect on what is actually being said and to spot at least the most glaring errors. Such as Dumas’ recipe for Norfolk dumplings, which reads as follows in English:
This dish, which owes its name to the Duke of Norfolk, who had a great affection for it, is made in the following way. You add to a fairly thick dough a big glass of milk, two eggs and a little salt. Cook it for two or three minutes in quickly boiling water. Discard the water, drain the dumpling in a sieve and serve it with slightly salted butter.
Only a moment’s reflection is needed to realize that there is something wrong in the preparation, here. A dumpling of the size indicated could not possibly be cooked in two or three minutes. In fact, Dumas has got everything wrong except the title of the recipe. There are indeed such things as Norfolk dumplings; but they are an ancient tradition of the people of Norfolk, and their name has nothing to do with any Duke. They are made as follows, according to the careful observations of Mrs. Arthur Webb (Farmhouse Cookery, George Newnes Ltd, c. 1930):
“The farmer’s wife very skilfully divided a pound of dough (remember, just ordinary bread dough) into four pieces. These she weighed, and so cleverly had she gauged the size that they weighed approximately 4 ounces each. She kneaded, and rolled them in a very little flour until they were quite round, then put them on a plate and slipped them into a large saucepan containing fast-boiling water. The saucepan lid was put back immediately, and then, when the water came to the boil once more, 15 minutes” rapid boiling was allowed for the dumplings. . . .”
Dumplings in Norfolk are not a sweet. They are a very substantial part of what might be the meat course, or they might serve as a meat substitute. Among the cooks in the villages, the dumplings were sometimes put into very large pots and boiled on top of the greens; then they are called ‘swimmers”.
But let’s be real here, Dumas, never claimed to be a great chef. Like most of us living in this modern day 21st Century, he was a home cook who enjoyed cooking as well as having food prepared for him. And he loved to write about food. Even his novels mention a lavish meal or two shared by the characters of his imagination.
Dumas’s epicurean tour of the alphabet, from absinthe (and how to make it) to zest (and how to use it), is a treasure chest of hundreds of recipes spanning 150 years of the culinary arts. It is a magnificent mix of encyclopedia and cook book, filled with Dumas’ reminiscences and humorous anecdotes. And although the recipes are written without measurements, it is a master storyteller’s collection of consummate prose, worthy of being read as literature, just as M.F.K Fisher’s An Alphabet for Gourmets (1949) was first enjoyed almost a hundred years later.
Charmingly, Dumas writes an entry for madeleines, which reminds him of a “petite aventure” that he recounts with the flair for the dramatics like one of his characters in his novels. On the subject of truffles, he writes: “We asked the wise about the truffle and after two thousand years of discussion they responded as on the first day: We don’t know. We asked the truffle herself and she responded: Eat me and worship God.”
The bibliophile Jacob Paul Lacroix, a Dumas contemporary, captured the singular significance of Le Grand Dictionnaire most memorably:
Assuredly it is a great accomplishment to be a novelist, but it is no mediocre glory to be a cook. Novelist or cook, Dumas is a master, and the two vocations appear to go hand in hand, or, rather, to be joined in one.
Nine years later, in 1882, Lemerre published Le Petit Dictionnaire de cuisine, consisting of only the recipes and doing away with all the historical commentary on food and its rituals. However, Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine remained in print in its original form until the 1950s.
Le Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine is truly a monumental work. Not only amazing for its collection of old world recipes, stories and historical facts, it creates a cumulatively unique portrait of the man himself. Dumas avowed he would not eat pâté de foie gras because the ducks and geese “…are submitted to unheard of tortures worse than those suffered under the early Christians.”
Dumas also noted his description of the perfect number of dinner guests within the context of ancient history, which still holds true today:
Varro, the learned librarian, tells us that the number of guests at a Roman dinner was ordinarily three or nine — as many as the Graces, no more than the Muses. Among the Greeks, there were sometimes seven diners, in honor of Pallas. The sterile number seven was consecrated to the goddess of wisdom, as a symbol of her virginity. But the Greeks especially liked the number six, because it is round. Plato favored the number twenty-eight, in honor of Phoebe, who runs her course in twenty-eight days. The Emperor Verus wanted twelve guests at his table in honor of Jupiter, which takes twelve years to revolve around the sun. Augustus, under whose reign women began to take their place in Roman society, habitually had twelve men and twelve women, in honor of the twelve gods and goddesses.
In France, any number except thirteen is good, but that is story for another time.
But Le Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine is more than a cookbook. Dumas meant it to be a formidable inquiry into both gustation and gastronomy, utilized by enthusiasts and culinary professionals alike. The entries cover ingredients, cooking tools, and cooking techniques. In an early instance of product placement, there are several pages dedicated to the history of mustard as a condiment. At the end of the mustard entry, Dumas thoroughly endorses the mustard-maker Bornibus.
Alan and Jane Davidson, translators and editors of Dumas on Food, a 1978 English abridged edition of Le Grand Dictionnaire, wrote that the French received the Dictionnaire with kindness, but little critical interest. Dumas’s declining fame might have been to blame. The work also had factual errors and an inconsistent format. The Davidsons note that Dumas wrote only half a page on the subject of milk, while the South American wild bird hocco received two. Cheese has two pages, but ambergris, a whale secretion used as flavoring, has five: a curious imbalance for a culinary work aimed at the French public. In 2005, Alexandre Dumas’ Dictionary of Cuisine was once again edited, abridged and translated into English by Louis Colman.
And I digress, because the subject at hand was ice cream…..
Cookbook author Louis P. DeGouey (1869-1947), was also a chef at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for 30 years, where he apprenticed with Escoffier. He wrote “The Soup Book” (1949). DeGouey first noted Dumas’ creation Lemon Flower ice cream. He says:
A really surprisingly delicious ice cream, the creation of which is attributed to the famous French writer Alexandre Dumas, who not only confined his talent to many interesting books, known the world over, but also to a culinary book, the authoritative “Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine” (The Great Culinary Dictionary) published by Alphonse Lemerre, in Paris in 1873.
Dumas’ lemon flower ice cream was served very often, at his Chateau de Bellevue, near Paris, France, where all the illustrious writers of his era would meet for the salons.
The Chateau de Bellevue, also known as is a charming castle located in France, on Port-Marly hill, between Marly-le-Roi and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The castle is just as famous as the novel to which it owes its name.
The story of the castle begins with the success of both of Dumas’ novels. At the height of his fame and seeking a peaceful place to continue his writing and to escape the chaos of city life, Dumas acquired a vineyard just 12 miles (20km) to the west of Paris.
In 1846, Dumas prepared plans for his future home with the help of notable architect Hippolyte Durand (1801-1882), a French architect who specialized in medieval-style church architecture. Durand restored or built many church buildings, mostly in the southwest of the country. He is perhaps best known for the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes, completed in 1872. Durand is also know for his renovations to the Basilique Saint-Rémi in Reims. Dumas’ plans for the estate included a Renaissance château, a miniature Gothic castle, and gardens featuring waterfalls, ornamental rocks, and grottos. On the 25th of July 1847, Dumas organized a party for his friends and admirers and moved into his tiny earthly paradise, as he referred to the estate.
Chateau de Bellevue, the main building.
The Chateau is a reflection of Dumas’ imagination. The castle has sculpted facades on every side and is decorated with cherubs, flowers, and musical instruments, symbolizing the arts. The windows on the ground floor are decorated with medallions of the greatest authors of all time, like Shakespeare and Dante, while on the pediment above the entrance, the family coat of arms is carved with Dumas’ personal motto:”J’aime qui m’aime” which translated to ,”I love those who love me.”
The Dumas Coat of Arms above the main door. (Photo Credit:Irina Dumitru, 2013)
The first floor features what is undoubtedly the most beautiful room in the castle: the Moorish Salon based on Dumas extensive travels to Spain and North Africa.. It has authentic décor, with blue and red stained-glass windows, and white, green, and blue tiles. The walls are adorned with arabesques and fine stucco sculptures crafted by Beiluli Tunisian artisans. The first floor also features the bedroom, library, and dressing room.
The Moor Salon. (Photo Credit:Irina Dumitru, 2013)
On the ground floor there is the dining room where meals were served even by the writer, the rooms that hosted fabulous parties, where he welcomed his friends with delicious food and entertained them with his stories.
The Dining Room. (Photo Credit:Irina Dumitru, 2013)
Alexandre Dumas’ study is separated from the castle and it is the place where he would retreat to write.
The Château d’If, as Dumas named it, is a delightful tiny neo-gothic castle, whose facades are carved with titles of his work. A sculpture of a dog in a niche decorates the stairs leading up to the Château d’If.
The decorated stairs of the Château d’If. (Photo Credit: Moonik, 2010)
All 88 of Dumas’ works are carved in stone on the façade of the Château d’If.
The park includes a garden in English style planted with varieties of roses and trees, such as fir, larch, oak, birch, hornbeam, and lime trees. Life at the castle was also animated by the multitude of pets, along with dogs and cats. The estate also included a ménagerie with both familiar and rare animal species that Dumas brought with him from his travels, including monkeys, parrots, an eagle and a vulture. Sounds very much like the Neverland Estate once owned by Michael Jackson.
The desk of Alexandre Dumas in the Château d’If. (Photo Credit: Moonik, 2010)
The life of Dumas at The Chateau de Bellevue was anything but boring. He loved to entertain and organized large, extravagant parties. However, Dumas was heavily in debt and eventually had to sell his personal paradise. On the 22nd of March 1849, he sold the property for the modest sum of 31,000 gold francs, although it had cost him hundreds of thousands to build. As leaving his beloved home was very difficult for Dumas, the buyer let him stay at The Chateau until he departed for Belgium in 1851.
The grotto in the garden. (Photo Credit: Moonik, 2010)
In the second half of the 19th century, the property passed through several owners before falling into disrepair. In 1969, a real estate project planned to build 400 new homes on the site. However, the Society of the Friends of Alexandre Dumas and the local authorities came together, bought the property and saved Monte-Cristo from demolition. Restoration followed, and even the King of Morocco, Hassan II, helped by financing the restoration of the famous Moorish Salon. Since 1994, the Château de Monte-Cristo has been a public history museum commemorating Dumas and a monument representing the Romantic architecture of the nineteenth century.
And just how greatly Dumas is still revered and and admired by the French people? Well in 2002, for the bicentennial of Alexandre Dumas’ birth, then French President Jacques Chirac arranged a ceremony honoring the renowned author by reinterring his coffin at the Panthéon in Paris. Four Republican guards dressed as the 4 Musketeers conveyed Dumas’ casket through the streets of Paris to the famous mausoleum, where his remains were laid to rest alongside those of Victor Hugo and Émile Zola.
Although Julia Child introduced the art of French Cooking to the modern housewife in America. The French influence in America cuisine has been present since the early colonial days. However, too often are chefs like François Vatel (1631 – 1671) and contributions like Dumas are overlooked.Sometimes, a little research will reveal little gems like this, an ice cream recipe from the 19th century! It is very easy to make, the basis being a plain custard as we close out this month of featuring Citrus Fruits.
LEMON FLOWER ICE CREAM
LEMON FLOWER ICE CREAM
Ingredients: 1 pint fresh cream 1/2 cup white sugar 1/4 teaspoon sea salt 8 egg yolks, slightly beaten 2 ounces lemon flowers, finely chopped
In a large heatproof bowl, slightly beat the eggs.
In a heavy sauce pot, scald heavy cream with the sugar and salt. Gradually and slowly, almost drop by drop, pour this hot cream over the slightly beaten egg yolks, beating rapidly and constantly from the bottom of the mixing bowl, to prevent the curdling on the eggs. Add the chopped lemon flowers with the last amount of scaled cream.
On a medium high setting, cook the mixture over boiling water using a double boiler, until mixture is of a soft-custard like consistency, stirring constantly. Strain through a double cheesecloth or a fine sieve into bowl. Cover with plastic and allow to cool in the refrigerator. When cold, place the cream in an ice cream maker and freeze the cream according to the manufacturer’s directions.
When the process is complete, transfer the ice cream into a lidded container and finish freezing in the freezer, for at least another 2 hours, for the desired consistency.
Cook’s Note: Any kind of edible flower may be substituted for lemon flowers if desired.
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This dish of Chicken Savoyarde is an adaptation of a 200 year old recipe. Sometimes, things get lost in the translation when you go from French to English, but one thing for sure, this recipe is a simple peasant dish that has been elevated to most elegant and sophisticated dinning experience.
The Alps are emblematic, mountains as metaphor. They’re imposing, romantic, operatic—inspiring us to poetry and to heroic deeds , whether fearlessly scaling their faces or just schussing in mild terror down the intermediate ski run. They are also famous for their food, promising to nourish us with honest, robust fare once we’ve conquered the slopes in one direction or the other (or even just thought about doing so). This is especially true, not surprisingly, on the French side of the Alps.
A hugely varied terrain, much of the Savoie is covered by high-altitude mountain plateaux, steep gradients, deep river valleys, farmland and lakes, plus of course huge swathes of the land are covered in snow for half the year, so the people who historically lived and travelled here were very hardy folk.
They are also famous for their food, promising to nourish us with honest, robust fare once we’ve conquered the slopes in one direction or the other (or even just thought about doing so). This is especially true, not surprisingly, on the French side of the Alps.
The region of Savoie, divided into the departements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie, lies at the heart of the French Alps—the remnants of a kingdom that ruled much of this part of Europe for eight centuries, until the mid-1800s—and it is here that French mountain cooking thrives most vigorously. The raw materials are rich and varied—cheese(Beaufort, Tome and of course Reblochon) and other dairy products; apples, pears, plums, and cherries; mountain berries and wild mushrooms; wild game; fresh fish from local lakes—not just trout but perch, pike, and the sublime omble-chevalier. Fondue Savoyarde is the region’s most famous dish, but hearty soups and stews (among them the famous Potee), civets of game, potato dishes, and glorious fruit tarts all appear on the Savoyard table as well.
If you are a fan of winter sports, take note that The Savoie is home to many of France’s most fashionable ski resorts—Chamonix, Courchevel, and Val d’Isere among them—and these, of course, imply elaborate resort hotels: mountain palaces with serious dining rooms serving dishes that may or may not owe anything to their surroundings. But basic country cooking has survived as well in the Savoie, both in homes and in restaurants, and there are even signs today that the ski culture is beginning a romance with the region’s traditional gastronomy.
For nearly 200 years, in the autumn, the men of the village descended to larger towns to find work for the winter. The women and children stayed behind, often living with the livestock to keep warm. In spring, the men returned, rushing back to plant their crops and lead their animals into summer pastures. Summer was the time to harvest wild herbs to dry for the winter menu. Before the men left the village again, pigs were slaughtered, and hams and sausages were made. In the communal oven, loaves of rye bread were baked, to be stored for months on wicker racks. (Before serving, they were softened in a damp towel. Otherwise, they’d have been rock-hard.) With chestnuts and polenta, these were the staples of the winter diet.
During the long months of winter, the people of Chamonix also depended on a diet of potatoes, cheese, onions, and pork products. Today, these same ingredients are still basic to the local cuisine. One of the most popular offerings is an ancient specialty called reblochonnade (also known as tartiflette), a sturdy cousin of the classic gratin savoyard. The dish is made of thinly sliced potatoes sauteed with bacon and onions, moistened with cream, then baked in the oven. Finally, generous slices of creamy reblochon (a cow’s-milk cheese made in the Haute-Savoie) are melted on top. The dish feels hearty enough to insulate against the most bracing winter winds, all the way till spring. Local children still made their way to school through the snow in hobnailed wood-soled shoes. For lunch, they carried simple meals of potato fritters and cafe au lait, to be reheated over the school’s wood stove.
That was life—and food—here before skiing. Things began to change in 1878, when a Savoyard named Henri Duhamel bought some narrow wooden planks from Scandinavia at the Paris Exposition and introduced them to the Alps. “The use of skis permits a skilled Alpine peasant to go easily from one point to another,” explained an article in La Croix de Savoie in 1908.
By the 1930s, Val d’Isere had started to become a center for winter sports enthusiasts. One of the first hotels in town to earn a reputation beyond the Alps was Hotel Le Solaise, opened in December 1938 by Noel and Palmyre Machet. :The grocer in Tignes delivered provisions for the whole winter all at once,” Palmyre remembered. “We served Savoie ham, trout, and game. In those days, you had to have a passion for the mountains to come to Val d’Isere. There were no lifts to get you up the slopes. You had to be dragged on sealskins by mules. Everyone carried spools of red wool to unwind for marking spots susceptible to avalanche.
Original vintage skiing poster by Paul Ordner (1900-1969) featuring a dynamic image of a skier carving through the turns of a slalom race on a mountain piste. Mont Revard is a mountain in the Bauges mountain range in Savoie, France, home to the Le Revard ski resort, also used as a finishing stage of the Tour de France. Mont Revard a 1550m – Ecole de Ski / Ski School – PLM (French railway line).
Today, skiing in Val d’Isere is a high-tech pursuit, but at the table, time-honored specialties of the region are very much in evidence—crozets (small cubes of buckwheat pasta), diots (local sausages, usually braised in white wine), polenta, and Potee. The Hotel Le Solaise is gone, but at the restaurant that bears its name, Laurent Caffot, the Machets’ grandson, prepares exquisite frogs’ legs and omble-chevalier. He turns plebeian snails into a light and elegant fricassee. And he is not afraid to marry foie gras with polenta, one of the simple foods of yesteryear. The roots of the village still run deep.
Still, local residents don’t forget their history: Charlemagne waged battles here against the Lombard armies; pilgrims and merchants passed through, traveling between France and Italy. The ascent from Piedmont was long and steep. On the French side, the slope was milder. Travelers made their descent in sledges made of bound branches, which moved fast but were short on comfort. Happily, at the end of the journey there were inns and taverns.
The Savoy region of France borders on Switzerland and Italy and is jagged with the French Alps. It is well known for its wines, cheeses and Savoyarde cuisine, that is rich with cream and delicate cheese sauces. This recipe for Chicken Savoyarde is typical of that style of cooking, featuring sautéed chicken breasts that are cooked in a white wine and served with artichokes and a smooth velouté enriched with cream and Gruyere cheese. Broiled until bubbly and golden brown, this dish is a perfect entrée for a Sunday Dinner. The boneless chicken and artichoke bottoms, baked in a white wine sauce. It can be prepared ahead and baked at the last minutes. Very little work for gourmet main course. You can serve this dish with a green salad, asparagus and mashed potatoes for a complete meal.
Serves 6 to 8
Ingredients: For the Chicken: 4 whole chicken breasts, 1 1/2 pound each, boned, skinned, and split 1/4 cup all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 1 medium onion, sliced 1 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves Salt, to taste a dash of ground black pepper 1/2 cup dry white wine
For the Sauce: 1 tablespoon butter 1 tablespoon all purpose flour 1/2 cup chicken stock ¼ cup dry white wine 1/2 cup heavy cream salt, to taste freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated ½ tablespoon Clovis Tarragon Dijon Mustard™ (See Cook’s Notes)
One 14-ounce can of artichoke bottoms(See Cook’s Notes) 6 thin slices of Swiss cheese 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated Fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
Directions: Pat the chicken breasts dry with clean paper towels. Add the flour to a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. In a large heavy skillet, over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add onion, tarragon and them. Sauté onion until tender and translucent.
Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour and shake off the excess. To the onion mixture in the skillet, add the chicken breasts, four pieces at a time, arrange then in a single layer. Sauté the chicken breasts for 15 minutes, turning once with tongs. Remove the chicken from the skillet; add the remaining uncooked chicken breasts and repeat the cooking process. Return all the chicken to the skillet.
To the sautéed chicken breasts in the skillet, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a dash of pepper and 1/2 cup dry white wine; mix well. Cover and simmer the chicken over low heat for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce.
To Make the Sauce. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook gently for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, and gradually stir in the stock and wine. Finally, add the cream, tarragon and a little salt and pepper to taste. Return to the heat and simmer gently for 5 minutes, then stir in the cheese and the mustard. Taste and adjust seasonings. Use in a chicken gratin as directed below.
In a small saucepan, over low heat, gently warm the artichokes and drain.
Arrange the chicken breasts in a shallow heat proof baking dish, preferably glass. Arrange the artichokes around the chicken. Spoon the sauce all over the chicken and artichokes. Lay a slice of Swiss cheese on top of each chicken breast. Sprinkle with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. Place the baking dish under the broiler and broil until chicken is thoroughly heated and the cheese is bubbly, about 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve hot, family style.
Sauce: You can make this sauce as a stand alone accompaniment for other dishes. The sauce makes the perfect partner to Sunday’s roast chicken and can equally well be used to dress up the left-over chicken next day.
Mustard: If you cannot find Clovis Tarragon Dijon Mustard™, feel free to use 1 tablespoon of commercially prepared mustard and 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh tarragon as reasonable substitutes.
Sour Cream: You can substitute sour cream for the heavy cream. There are variations of this recipe that do use sour cream and sometimes half & half.
Onion Mixture: In the original recipe, it appears that the onions were discarded in the presentation of the final dish. In making a kitchen sustainable, the onion and wine mixture can be pureed and frozen for future use, such as a base for a vegetable or onion soup.
Artichokes: Canned artichoke bottoms sliced is used n this recipe. But you can also use artichoke hearts, if artichoke bottoms are not available in your local supermarket. Also note that fresh Jerusalem artichokes, when in season, are delicious and a less expensive alternative to artichoke hearts and bottoms. To cook them, scrub the artichokes; boil in salted water until fork tender. Drain, peel and slice into rounds.
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